[Welcome back to
Fact or Fiction
! Today, Lantern Control enthusiast
Sam Black and Lava Spike aficionado Patrick Sullivan give their takes
on five statements inspired by the latest Banned and Restricted
announcement by Wizards of the Coast. Read their responses and vote for
the winner at the end!]
1. Jace, the Mind Sculptor will be banned in Modern in less than
one calendar year.
Sam Black: Fiction.
Jace, the Mind Sculptor is great and will be heavily played, but a year is
not very long. I think what would have to happen for Jace to get banned
again would be that we’d need to see the diversity of Modern considerably
shift. Currently, Modern is in a great place with dozens of viable decks
where it’s extremely rare for a single archetype to make up more than 10%
of the field. I don’t think there will be serious consideration for banning
Jace unless that changes.
Modern moves slowly; it’ll take people a long time to give up on their
decks even if the format shifts to become more hostile toward them.
Although, in this case, we’ll probably see a fairly large shift toward
playing Jace decks instead of whatever people were playing just due to
initial excitement. Once that settles down, people will figure out how to
beat Jace decks and there will be a rebalancing. If the format lands in a
place where Jace is the best thing, it’ll take a while to figure that out,
and Wizards will still want to allow time for people to adapt and correct
naturally. I don’t know if Jace will need to be banned again, but if it
does, I think it would more likely be one to two years from now rather than
less than one.
I argued for many years that even if Jace, the Mind Sculptor is a
borderline case on pure power level, secondary market considerations would
make it extremely risky to unban. How do you ask people to shell out
hundreds of dollars on a playset and then walk it back, especially since
that was the card’s history in Standard? Wizards has doubled down on that
downside risk by tying the unban to the release of an ancillary product,
for which Jace will be the key selling point. I do not think it is
politically viable to reban so soon after taking such a strong position on
I am a bit of a Jace apologist; I like making powerful incentives for
control players to invest mana on their own turn, and the range of cards
that interact against Jace is much greater than, say, Ancestral Vision or
Search for Azcanta. But Jace might end up being busted, much better than
Wizards (or many players) realized upon announcement, bringing the ire of
large parts of the community in short order. Even in those scenarios
though, Wizards has made their bed, and I expect them to lie in it for more
than a year.
2. The return of Bloodbraid Elf makes other B/G/x Thoughtseize
like Abzan and Grixis obsolete.
Sam Black: Fiction.
Lingering Souls is still extremely good in the midrange B/G/x semi-mirror,
which creates substantial pressure to include white mana. Maybe we’ll see
four-color Bloodbraid Elf/Lingering Souls decks, but four color is tricky
to pull off in Modern, and there will be substantial pressure to cut a
color. I think this means we’ll see a mixture of four-color, Jund, and
It’s also possible that Bloodbraid Elf just isn’t that good; it could
legitimately simply not change the way people build their decks in the long
run. When Siege Rhino was heavily played, some people felt like it was
better than Bloodbraid Elf, and it’s rarely played now because four is just
so much mana. I think Bloodbraid Elf most likely will be played, but I
don’t think it’s mandatory.
Jace, the Mind Sculptor also throws a substantial wrench into all this by
opening up the possibility of Sultai becoming the most popular B/G/x deck,
or at least another serious contender. Bloodbraid Elf and Lingering Souls
are both good ways to fight Jace, which again pushes for a balance of Jund,
Abzan, and Sultai, especially since, even if one build is “right,” they’re
similar enough that it will be hard to tell which one it is and people will
largely just play the one that makes the most sense to them.
Bloodbraid Elf is super dope. So is Lingering Souls. So are Cryptic Command
and Snapcaster Mage. In the short term, I expect most midrange aficionados
to turn to Bloodbraid Elf–it’s such a loud, powerful card, and lines up
especially well against Jace. But Bloodbraid Elf has existed alongside
other midrange decks in the past and did not invalidate all other options,
so in the long run I’m optimistic it won’t drown out everything else.
I think something of a middle ground might emerge-that all the three color
midrange decks get collapsed into various four-color options. If it’s
trivial to splash Bloodbraid Elf into your Abzan deck (or Lingering Souls
into your Jund deck, etc.), why not just load up on all the good cards? The
non-basic land hate in Modern is good enough that it isn’t a freeroll, but
the mana fixing is so powerful that this path seems plausible to me.
3. The unbanning of Jace, the Mind Sculptor and Bloodbraid Elf
should have been effective immediately instead of Monday, February
Sam Black: Fact.
This is a really hard question, and I almost answered fiction. It’s
extremely important to have reliable policies that people can trust, and if
this were a banning instead, it would suck to have made arrangements to
attend a tournament only to find out less than a week beforehand that you
can’t play your deck and need to find something new. I can say you should
know an announcement is coming and you’re playing a deck you think they
might ban something out of, you should have a backup option in place, but
it’s not necessarily realistic to expect everyone to own two Modern decks.
On the other hand, I myself am skipping SCG Indianapolis, which I might be
attending if the changes were in effect, and I know absolutely everyone
would be more interested in watching it. Nothing feels good about playing a
format you know is dead, and it would be at least as bad if there were bans
instead. There’s something especially miserable about the feeling of losing
to a card that’s already announced as being banned, but it hasn’t taken
effect yet. Like, okay, it’s officially acknowledged that this is too good,
so I shouldn’t have to play against it, but here I am losing to it anyway.
There are some people who will find themselves with plans to attend a
tournament they now don’t want to play in because of changes to the
format’s legality in places where a change happens immediately and they
need time to react, but they’re a substantial minority, and the tournament
will feel way more interesting and legitimate to everyone else playing in
it or watching it if they get to play the new format. I don’t think delays
are worth it at this point.
I definitely get the other side of the argument-some players will be
dispirited playing in a “dead” format, and from a coverage perspective
you’d much rather show the new, flashy stuff. But I think fidelity to
announcements is a huge part of building up and sustaining credibility, and
it isn’t some all-or-nothing situation-players will get to play the new
format in short order, and people will get to watch it, too. I think it is
also easy to overestimate the effectiveness of your communication
channels-I do not believe 100% of players would know the changes had gone
into effect prior to arriving at the tournament site.
Even if I thought it was close in the other direction, I believe the
monetary cost of Jace makes my position more compelling-even if it is just
perception, people believing that they need to scramble to buy Jaces (right
after the card spiked in price) to play in an event they had no reason to
believe would involve that card last week feels deeply exploitative.
4. You’d like to see a rotating banned and restricted list for
Sam Black: Fiction.
Also fiction: my answer. By that I mean, yes, it is a fact that I
personally would like to see this. I have the cards to build almost every
Modern deck, and what I don’t have, I can easily borrow. I’ve been playing
Magic for over 23 years and I do it professionally. I’ve had a lot of time
and incentive to build a collection. I also enjoy new formats and new
challenges. This would be fun for me, but I answer fiction because I think
this world would be worse, and I care more about other people enjoying
Magic and Magic doing well.
When I played as a teenager, I was extremely resistant to picking up
Standard when it became the default tournament format. I had a Vintage deck
because I played when that was the only format. A rotating format where my
deck would need to consist of new cards was prohibitively expensive for me.
Yes, my Vintage deck was more expensive than a Standard deck, but I already
owned it, and it wouldn’t cost a lot of money each year to update. I didn’t
have the money to keep up with a rotating format.
For a lot of players, Modern offers that stability, where they can play
Magic without needing to keep up with every set because they own a Modern
deck or two that they can always play. Some people get really invested in
their Modern decks. It’s like their character in a roleplaying game. They
don’t want to have to suddenly play a different character; they’re invested
in that one. Modern is diverse enough that they can have a wide range of
play experiences because of all the different decks they’ll face with their
one deck, and this diversity that keeps the game interesting means that a
rotating banned list really isn’t needed to keep the format fresh–if it
does start to feel stale, you can always choose to play a different deck.
I understand the appeal of this path to heavily invested players—they are
more likely to tire of playing the same handful of decks and have large
enough collections to build whatever happens to be legal. Part of the charm
of non-rotating formats, though, is that you can build your deck and show
up whenever you want. And it is regularly mentioned that Modern is Magic’s
most popular format-this means that
a lot of people play this format that don’t play other formats, and
that characteristic disproportionally captures less invested players.
These are the types of players who are likely to only own their one deck,
or show up to their local store with a Burn deck, not knowing that these
are the three months out of the year in which Lava Spike is randomly
I also think a rotating list dampens the credibility of the format-an
effort to force diversity through artificial efforts, a publicly-declared
list of cards that are “too good,” an inability to read old deck lists and
extract any meaningful information. The capricious nature of the Modern
banned list has at times damaged the integrity of the format for some, and
a rotating banned/restricted list is a far more extreme version of any
present or past execution.
5. After Pro Tour Rivals of Ixalan and Grand Prix
Toronto, Modern needed the shake up that Jace, the Mind Sculptor and
Bloodbraid Elf will seemingly provide.
Sam Black: Fiction.
As far as I know, almost everyone who has ever liked Modern likes Modern as
it is. The format is in an extremely healthy place and accomplishing all of
its goals. When asked my opinion on unbanning Bloodbraid Elf, my answer has
been, “It definitely doesn’t need to be banned, it’s silly that it’s on the
banned list and almost certainly not too good. The only reason to unban it
would be to do so at a time when you want to get people more excited about
The fact that this change wasn’t needed doesn’t necessarily mean it
shouldn’t happen. When there’s a clear path to adding excitement now, it’s
hard to say that you shouldn’t take it and the excitement will for some
reason be better later. If nothing else, this will somewhat definitively
answer whether Jace, the Mind Sculptor should be legal–if the format is
bad and you unban Jace and it’s still bad (or bad in a different way), it’s
hard to know if Jace should be legal. If the format is good and you unban
Jace and then it becomes bad, you know for sure that Jace was a problem and
you can ban it again; and if the format stays good, great, you got to add a
well-loved card to the format that will also help sell an upcoming set.
As to the “cash grab replies”–remember that this goes both ways, a lot of
people have been pushing for Jace to be legal again and held back only by
the fear of what that would do to its price and making Modern inaccessible.
The reprint is required to allow the move even if the move is for the
health of the format. If the reprint also happens to make Wizards money,
it’s just a win-win.
I tweeted as much at the time. Modern seemed to be about as healthy as one
could expect. You can always find complaints-Lantern’s play pattern, how
few of the decks play “in the middle,” how much the format is about cards
that cost a single mana-but for a heavily iterated, non-rotating format,
Modern appeared to be in good shape. I doubt the recent unbannings were
motivated by a desire to “shake things up,” however.
This is my best guess on the chain of events (with zero inside information,
to be clear): Jace was slotted into Masters 25 a while back, sales
of the last few ancillary releases were softer than Wizards would have
liked, and the unbanning of Jace is something they hope they can “get away
with” from a format perspective while juicing sales of the upcoming
release. Bloodbraid Elf then makes sense as an additional unban as it helps
message “we’re just trying to give midrange some love” while also putting
something into the ecosystem that has been powerful against Jace in the
past. Maybe Modern ends up better for all of this-after all, I think
midrange could use some love. However, I would wager that Wizards’ target
for success here isn’t “Modern is healthier” so much as “Modern doesn’t
become appreciably worse.”